Rickety Gothic Architecture – the Cathedral of Beauvais

There are many reasons why you might like to do a day trip to Beauvais: the huge Gothic Cathedral St Pierre; the two museums with their focus on local history and culture; and the resto “Les Vents d’Anges” (Breaths of Angels). Also, it’s not one of the fancy, really popular or common day trips out of Paris, so crowds of tourists and big tour buses are less frequent. You get to see somewhere outside of Paris very easily, and it’s in Picardie, a region famous for the battles along the River Somme in World War 1.

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Internal trusses support the fragile structure of this Gothic cathedral

The well-known song, Roses of Picardy, is a war-time ballad written in 1916 by Frederick Weatherby, which became one of the most famous songs from WW1. Various singers sang and recorded it after WW1, including Frank Sinatra, Mario Lanza and Yves Montand.

Interestingly, a minority of people still speak the Picard language, one of the languages of France. It’s a Romance language related to French.
To get there, catch the train from Gare du Nord (one per hour, leaving one minute after the hour: ours was 11:01am from platform 20, 19.80 euro return pp, with senior reduction!). Get tickets from the SNCF ticket office in the main entrance lobby of the station. It’s best to buy a return ticket there and don’t forget to “composter” your ticket on the platform before getting on the train. We rushed onto the train, forgetting to “composter” at the yellow machine on the platform, and the conductor was a bit peeved! The trip takes about 75 minutes with 6-7 other stops, through some pretty countryside.

When you get out at Beauvais station, walk left along rue de la République, at the end of which you’ll find the massive Eglise St Etienne (Church of St Stephen). To the side, in an enclosed grassy square, is a wonderful café, Les Vents D’Anges, where we stopped for lunch (see below).

After lunch we wandered to the famous Cathedral St Pierre, past the Hotel de Ville and the big town square, which still had a carrousel and remnants of the earlier Saturday local market. The cathedral is enormous, with an interesting story and chequered history. Besides being the world’s highest Gothic structure, it is also incomplete. Construction started in 1225 and it was meant to be the greatest and tallest church in Christendom, but over the centuries the construction had many problems and structural collapses, starting in 1284 when part of the choir collapsed. From 1500-1548 the transept was constructed and a 153m spire was completed in 1569, but in 1573 the spire and 3 levels of the bell tower collapsed. The nave was started in 1600, but never finished and is the only cathedral without a nave today. Because there is no nave to help support the structure and because of its great height, the cathedral is very unstable and fragile, so trusses and beams are needed to help stabilize it. Today only the choir and the transept exist, both so impressive that we can hardly imagine what the dreamed-of finished product may have been.

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Saint Pierre Cathedral with external scaffolding

Right now, the front is dazzling white as it’s been cleaned, and scaffolding on the side shows that is being currently worked on. Inside it’s cool, as it’s stone, and towering tall, impressive and awe-inspiring. We see the many wooden beams at various angles shoring it up, to prevent any collapse (again), showing us just how fragile it must be. Of note are the astronomical clock (not in motion when we were there) and some very pretty stained glass windows.

Next door, in the former Bishops Palace, is the Regional Museum of Oise. It’s free and open year-round, with limited hours during the winter months. We just breezed through, to get a feel, and to see the architecture and the garden. You enter through a 16th century gateway, linked by an aile (wing) to the Renaissance Palace erected for Bishop Louis-Villiers de L’Isle-Adam (1497-1521) over the foundation of an earlier 12th century structure.

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Gaul Warrior of Saint-Maur

The good art collection spans a long period, from a Gaul warrior of Saint-Maur, through medieval stone and wood sculptures, French art of the 16th century, through 19th and 20th century collections. The museum also hosts special exhibitions, usually on the top floor of the main palace building. Another thing we learned is that this town and area is famous for ceramics, which must be why the train station is decorated with some stunning ceramic “picture plaques”.

On the other side of the cathedral, in a modern building that is built over, and incorporates, some Gallo-Roman ruins, is the Tapestry Museum, also free. We breezed through it too—interesting, but not quite what we expected as most/many of the pieces are modern and pretty abstract. One wall does have some old tapestries, as well as newer ones with political themes from Russia and China.
Over the road is a bar/resto/salon du the called Le Zinc Bleu, which seems popular with locals and was about to host a music festival of some sort. We had tea there, with a great view of the cathedral opposite. A fun day trip.

Les Vents d’Anges
This little restaurant is on the corner of a semi-enclosed grassy square next to Eglise St Etienne. In the warm weather, staff set some tables outside. It’s very pleasant with the daisy-studded grass and the huge grey stone structure almost within touch. As we peer up, and a slight breeze ruffles through the trees, it is possible to imagine that maybe some angels are somewhere close by. The restaurant only offers a set midi formule for 17 euros each, (fixed lunch-time menu) written on an ardoise (chalkboard). We took the entrée and plat (appetizer and main dish), which turned out to be terrine a la maison with salad and a plate of charcuterie; followed by lieu noir (a fish) with pasta and haricots verts (green beans), or faux fillet with mashed potatoes and haricots verts. All very nice with really attentive service.
It was doing very well that Saturday, obviously popular with the locals as many family groups came. When we walked past later, the outside tables had been moved and been set up inside a “tent” at the front, as it still gets a little cool at night in March. We would definitely return.

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4 Responses to Rickety Gothic Architecture – the Cathedral of Beauvais

  1. Thanks Mike, looks good. Yeah, hopefully that title will arouse curiosity!
    Vivienne Mackie recently posted..A Heavenly Meal?

  2. Hi Viv

    Always nice to have somewhere a bit different to visit that isn’t so crowded.
    Also where the food is good!

    Not sure when and if we will get back to Paris—-

  3. Arthur says:

    That must have been a grand day out. I really enjoyed your article.

  4. admin says:

    Thanks, Arthur. Not as adventurous as you recumbent bike trips around Scandinavia. Try some remote corner of France one day, and send me an article about it (:=>

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